London program materializes classic literature

Katie Brobst, Assistant Life Editor

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On June 3, students in the Literary London program gathered in their dorms in an unfamiliar city as the London Bridge attack unfolded on the news.

Veering off the side of the road on the London Bridge, a van careened into pedestrians. Three terrorists ran from the van into the streets, where they stabbed civilians, killing eight and injuring 48 people, according to BBC News.

None of the Literary London group, which I was a part of, was present at the attack. Our housing was located about a mile away from the bridge, a distance that felt quite far in the international city.

“Being in a city with a terrorist attack was absolutely bizarre,” junior Blair Bean said. “It was surreal to be sitting with your friends, in a city 3,000 miles away from home, while the sound of sirens are all around you.”

We spent the night refreshing news reports. My inbox quickly filled with emails from friends, family, my professors, UVM and the American Embassy. Our professors called a meeting in the morning to offer guidance and emotional support.

Though our proximity to the London Bridge attack was many 21st century travelers’ fear realized, our class continued with what we traveled to London to do: study British literature.

At first glance, the Literary London summer program is an average British literature class. However, for each setting our class read about and each play we analyzed, we visited the stories’ settings and saw them performed live.

Reading Shakespeare is something you can do anywhere. But reading “Twelfth Night” and then seeing it performed at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater literally brings the play to life.

Many UVM students have read Dickens, but how many have visited his house in London?

“We weren’t stuck in a London classroom all day. No, we were going out and doing everything we could. All of the plays and museums we saw as a group were incredible,” Ireland said. “There’s so much culture to be absorbed.”

As traveling so often begins with strangers and ends with new friends, bonding was inevitable as we navigated the city together.

During our free time, we could go anywhere in central London on the Underground or the city buses – red double-decker ones, of course.

While class activities such as tours and plays were done as a group, our free time was ours and spent well.

Exploring on our own, we found a canal filled with barges near King’s Cross Station; one particular barge, named “Words on the Water,” had live music on the roof and a used bookstore below deck.

“The course gives you time to get all of your coursework done, build amazing relationships and explore a lot of the city,” Bean said.

It was a challenge to get ourselves to museums and theaters within London, and to get ourselves to England in the first place.

“It pushed me to my limits in the best way,” Ireland said. “I gained so much more confidence in the two weeks we were there, just by proving to myself that I could do things I hadn’t dreamed of.”

Though London experienced tragedy this summer, members of the Literary London class felt it was important to continue traveling and learning in the U.K.

“It was easy to be afraid. There was much more bravery in not letting fear stop us from seeing all that London had to offer,” sophomore Kay Ireland said.